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Civil servants face the axe as Ruto seeks to ease ballooning wage bill

President William Ruto and SRC Chair Lynn Mengich during the Third National Wage Bill Conference in Bomas of Kenya. [PCS]

President William Ruto has said reducing the high number of civil servants is among the options to be considered as the government strives to cut the wage bill.

He said his administration is ready to make painful decisions for substantive reduction of the wage bill. “As leaders, we have a choice to lead and make a difference and not be popular and if you want to be a comedian, you can. We must stop chasing what is popular but what is right,” said Ruto.

The President spoke during a panel discussion at the Third National Wage Bill Conference in Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi on Wednesday.

The conference organised by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) and Intergovernmental Relations Technical Committee, was under the theme ‘Towards 35 Percent.’ The President committed to reducing the current wage bill to revenue from 46 per cent to 35 per cent. He noted significant progress in managing the public wage bill, highlighting its reduction from 51 per cent to 46 per cent.

Ruto said increasing the country’s revenue will improve the wage bill-to-revenue ratio. “I believe that we can raise an extra Sh500 billion, if not Sh1 trillion, just by digitising the Kenya Revenue Authority,” he said.

It emerged that civil servants with fake academic papers will be the first on the chopping board. Ruto said an audit revealed 2,100 civil servants with fake certificates, a testament to corruption in government.

Early this year, an audit by the Public Service Commission (PSC) revealed that some 701 workers with fake academic papers, employed in ministries, departments, agencies and state corporations (MDAs), were yet to be punished.

Ruto asked those who have earned salaries using false certificates to surrender the money or else the Director of Criminal Investigations and Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) move in to recover it.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua acknowledged that the wage bill is not sustainable hence the need to reduce the workforce, which stands at over 900,000. “This issue of fake certificates is a quick win for us. If we make a decision to get rid of all the fellows and characters with fake certificates, probably we can lock out 10,000 people from the wage bill and recover a billion or two,” said Gachagua.

“In this matter of wage bill and fake certificates, I want to encourage you to make hard decisions that will be beneficial to this country and that will form part of your legacy,” he added.

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi encouraged the President to make decisions that will reduce the wage bill. “The status of the economy inherited by the Kenya Kwanza government was extremely difficult and remains difficult and therefore difficult decisions have to be made to deal with revenue, security and other things,” said Mudavadi.

Public Service and Delivery Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria said reducing the wage bill is not an option and committed to ensure the ministry achieves the same. “This is the only issue we have to deal with to reduce our recurrent expenditure, which continues to frustrate our ambitions,” he said.

President Ruto said he will make unpopular decisions, regardless of consequences and name-calling. “Good people, we must just do what we must do, and for your information, I intend to do it and I am ready to take the consequences. My name is Zakayo and there is no problem. If the country is going to get where we want it to go, I don’t mind names, so long as we get the country where it should go,” said Ruto.

The opposition has often referred to Ruto as Zakayo in reference to the biblical Zacchaeus, the tax collector, for heavy taxation measures.

Ruto said new opportunities must be created in the digital space as an alternative source of employment for Kenyans.

He vowed to deal firmly and decisively with corruption in national and county governments. “We must be deliberate about creating alternative pathways to employment. Public Service is not a place for employment, and that’s why deliberately as a government, we have said we are going to implement programmes that create opportunities for employment,” he said.

He noted the success of any country plan or initiative will stand or fall on leadership and no one needs to be persuaded on whether it is the right thing to do. “The question to be answered is it the correct thing to get our wage bill to 35 per cent as a percentage of our revenue? Yes, it is the right thing. Is it doable, yes it is doable. Is it easy, no it’s not easy. So it's up to us as leaders to decide whether we want to do this or play to the gallery, talk the walk or walk the talk. That’s the decision we must make,” he said.

He said leaders must understand their calling and responsibility to move the country forward.

“The challenge we have as a country is that we know all that is right, have documents and studies but when time comes to implementation, it becomes difficult,” he said.

“If you want people to clap for you all the time If you want to be popular, you have an option, you can be a comedian, it seems a very well-paying job,” he added.

The President told off governors supporting the doctors’ strike and those opposing the fight against drug abuse and the closure of bars operating illegally. He said, such leaders are chasing popularity.

He promised to make the country live within its means to avert a fiscal deficit every financial year. “We have a budget every year that has a fiscal deficit. In 2022, we had a trillion shilling fiscal deficit, meaning we were seeking to spend a trillion which we didn’t have. We pulled it to Sh800 billion and Sh600 billion,” said Ruto.

“As we go towards having a wage bill to revenue of 35 per cent in the next three years, I will equally be driving to get a balanced budget so that we spend the money we can raise and thus be responsible and reasonable with ourselves,” he added. President Ruto directed all State agencies with non-compliant reports from the Auditor General and the PSC to submit corrective action within the next 21 days.

He disclosed that only 24 per cent of government institutions have received a clean bill of health from the PSC and the Auditor-General.

President Ruto also urged heads of government institutions to support reforms by the SRC.

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